The following is a list of our favorite general reference titles on New York City history:
Appleton’s Dictionary of Greater New York. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1879 to 1905.
An alphabetical compendium on New York ranging from a menu at Delmonico’s Restaurant to “slumming,” a popular pastime for the upper classes.
Blom, Benjamin. New York in Photographs 1850-1950. New York: Amaryllis Press, E.P. Dutton, 1982.
Contains many photographs reproduced for the first time in this moving portrait of New York.
Brodhead, John Romeyn, ed. Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York. Albany, NYS:1856-1858.
Based on Dutch, English and French colonial primary sources.
Burns, Ric and James Sanders. New York. An Illustrated History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
A voluminous, heavily illustrated companion guide to the PBS series New York. A Documentary Film.
Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham. A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
A breathtaking, engaging saga of the people and events that created the great metropolis.
Caro, Robert. The Power Broker. Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.
Caro won the Pulitzer Prize for his exhaustive and controversial account of the master builder of 20th century New York.
Cohen, Paul E. and Robert T. Augustyn. Manhattan in Maps. 1527-1995. Introduction by Tony Hiss. New York: Rizzoli, 1997.
A beautifully produced, invaluable reference to important maps with authoritative descriptions. A worthy follow-up to Stokes.
Homberger, Eric. The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City’s History. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1994.
An attractive timeline with maps, some created for this work, and other graphics accompanied by a lively history.
Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. The Encyclopedia of New York City. Second Edition, revised and expanded. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
An authoritative, sweeping compendium on wide-ranging aspects of New York up to the present day. Sui generis.
King’s Handbook of New York City. Moses King, Boston, MA, 1892, revised edition, 1893.
The first of King’s prolific publications that are an invaluable photographic documentation of New York buildings, businesses and places.
Kouwenhoven, John. The Columbia Historical Portrait of New York: An Essay in Graphic History. New York: Harper & Row, 1953.
An excellent visual and linear documentation of the city’s growth from its earliest days.
Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York. 1841-1870
Commonly referred to as Valentine Manuals, this series of 27 volumes produced annually between 1841 and 1870, except for 1867 was originally intended to contain city reports. The editions grew to contain a vast array of original documents and specially commissioned illustrations of old views, maps, plans, some printed for the first time.
McCullough, David. The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
An excellent account of the politics, personal stories and tragedies behind the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Nevins, Allan and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds. The Diary of Philip Hone. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1927. Various reprints over the years.
Nevins, Allan and Milton Halsey, Thomas eds. The Diary of George Templeton Strong 1835-1875. The Macmillan Co., 1952. 4 volumes. Various reprints over the years.
Two copious diaries written by influential, prominent New Yorkers that together span 1825 to 1875.
Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991.
An excellent, thorough social history of the complex, chaotic evolution of New York City.
Smith, Matthew Hale. Sunshine and Shadow in New York. Hartford: J. B. Burr and Company, 1968.
One of a popular genre of books from the late-nineteenth century depicting high and low life in New York with titles such as New York by Gaslight and Darkness and Daylight.
Still, Bayrd. Mirror for Gotham. New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present. New York: New York University Press, 1956. New York: Fordham University Press, 1994. With a new introduction by Edward Spann.
More than 600 diverse voices from Dutch times to the 1940’s woven into a historical narrative.
Stokes, Isaac Newton Phelps. The Iconography of Manhattan Island 1498 to 1909. New York: R. H. Dodd, published from 1915 to 1928. Compiled from original sources and illustrated by photo-intaglio reproductions of important maps, plans, views and documents in public and private collections by Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes. Six folio volumes. Reprints: Arno Press, 1967; and Martino Fine Books, the Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 1998.
An authoritative, copiously illustrated reference work on the maps, views, and plans of New York with an annotated bibliography, a chronology from 565 to 1909 culled from contemporary newspapers, ephemeral material, official records, personal archives, and books.
The WPA Guide to New York City: The Federal Writers’ Project Guide to 1930s New York. New York: Random House, 1939. Pantheon reprint with a new introduction by William H. Whyte, 1982.
A comprehensive guide and history to the five boroughs with photographs, maps and illustrations, articles written by fledgling great writers. Published concurrently with the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which is covered.
White, Norval and Eliot Willensky with Fran Leadon. AIA (American Institute of Architects) Guide to New York City. Fifth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Heralded since its first appearance in 1968 as “extraordinarily learned,” “blithe in spirit” and offers excellent coverage of noteworthy buildings in each borough.